Moose don’t technically count, right?

The Anchorage Audubon big day competition is coming up this weekend. I plan to tell you all about it next week, but thought I’d first tell you about my debut attempt last year. Teams had from 5 pm on Friday to 5 pm on Saturday to see as many bird species as possible within Municipality of Anchorage limits.

Fairly straightforward. It’s still winter here in mid-March–usually–so there’s a limit to the species to be seen. But, and it’s a very large but, Anchorage is about 50 miles from north to south and includes a lot of different types of terrain and climates.

I partnered up with my usual Anchorage birding companion, D. But come Friday we weren’t really in the mood and the weather was looking pretty bad. So we decided to make a noncompetitive attempt and agreed to get going Saturday morning (and hit one of our favorite breakfast spots along the way.) Come Saturday morning, the weather had not improved. In fact it had gotten worse and the snow clouds were rolling in. Not the most promising of starts.

The first moose of the day.

D picked me up at my house and we headed for the airport. We were on the road for fifteen minutes before we saw our first bird, a common raven. Let’s just say that this did not bode well. After an hour of birding we’d seen three moose and two bird species. Not only just two bird species, just two birds. The common raven we saw en route to the airport and a northern hawk owl hanging out in a tree along one of the runways at the airport. (The owl was a life lister for me so at that point I was thrilled and didn’t really care that we’d seen more moose than birds.) And then the blizzard kicked in.

Northern hawk owl at the airport.

Since we were doing so abysmally and the visibility was down to about 50 feet, we stopped for breakfast. What could the time out possibly hurt?

Next up was Potter Marsh. There’s a pair of resident eagles there so we had high hopes for them. The nest they’ve been using for the past several years is very visible in two places: from a boardwalk that snakes through part of the marsh (and is directly in front of the prevailing winds) and from the old highway road that goes behind the marsh. Since the walk out on the boardwalk promised to be cold, we went for the road viewing opportunity first. No luck. D was creeping along as I stuck my head out the passenger window looking for the nest and any smaller movement. She braked suddenly and yelled “Did you see that?” Turned she’d seen a wolverine cross the road in front of us. I missed it completely. Best I could do were the paw prints in the snow on the side of the road. And we didn’t find the eagle nest, anyhow. (We saw one later, at another location.)

All in all, we spent about four hours on the road and saw six species of birds and seven moose. We gave up and D drove me home.

About 4:30, I warmed up the Jeep and headed out to the wrap-up party. At the end of my cul-de-sac a bird flew across the street in front of me and landed in a pine across the way. I wasn’t sure it would count because I was solo, but I pulled out my camera, took a quick snapshot of it, and moved on.

I didn’t really see that, did I?

At the wrap-up party, I pulled out the camera and took a closer look at what I’d seen. A Eurasian collared dove? I must be wrong. I pulled one of the other competitors aside and asked if they occurred here. His answer: not usually, but there’d been a few scattered reports of one this winter. Turns out I had the third documented record of one in Anchorage. You would not believe how excited the others got. And when they heard D saw a wolverine? Well, we were the belles of the ball. Never mind we’d seen seven species between the two of us and the winning team had seen 31.

Some debut. Which is why I’ll never really get competitive birding. I’m just not very good at it. And, truth be told, I’m just not that interested in competition. Nevertheless, D and I are signed up to try it again this year. Maybe I’ll get to see a wolverine. If I do, I’ll let you know.

If you’re curious, our seven birds were: common raven, black-billed magpie, black-capped chickadee, rock pigeon, bald eagle, northern hawk owl, and Eurasian collared dove. Plus, of course, seven moose and one wolverine.

At least the mountain was out. Before the weather turned completely obnoxious, anyhow.

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